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Autumn is coming

Yesterday, I noticed the leaves were starting to fall from the trees outside our house. It might still be August, but the scent of autumn is starting to filter through on the breeze.

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Autumn is my favourite season. Cosy throws, fluffy slippers, hot chocolate. Crunchy leaves, Halloween, darkening evenings. And, of course, curling up with a good book. Autumn is the best time for getting stuck into stories, being frightened by a ghost story or thrilled by a thriller.

Each year, I try to come up with a list of books to read during autumn. A couple of years ago, I got stuck into Stephen King. The year before that, I discovered his son, Joe Hill. This year, I’m lining up a bunch of thrillers. Here are my recommendations for autumn 2017.

Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas

Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown

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The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne

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Slade House by David Mitchell

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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What’s on your autumn reading list? Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon

I review Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon.

Twin sisters Robin and Sarah haven’t spoken in years.

Robin can’t leave her house. A complete shut-in, she spends her days spying on her neighbors, subtly meddling in their lives. But she can’t keep her demons out forever. Someone from her past has returned, and is desperate to get inside.

Sarah can’t go home. Her husband has kicked her out, forcibly denying her access to their toddler. Sarah will do anything to get her daughter back, but she’s unraveling under the mounting pressure of concealing the dark secrets of her past. And her lies are catching up to her.

The novel takes readers back in time to witness the complex family dynamics that formed Robin and Sarah into the emotionally damaged, estranged young women they’ve become. As the gripping and intricate layers of their shared past are slowly peeled away, the shocks and twists will keep readers breathless long after the final page.

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I read Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon when it came out, so I knew I’d want to grab a copy of Don’t Close Your Eyes. Seddon writes classic thrillers as if it’s as easy as breathing – and perhaps it is, for her. She’s that rare talent who deserves all the credit she gets, and more.

Delving into dark subjects such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and suicide, Seddon doesn’t pull any punches. Every character is fully formed, fleshed out into life, and every incident is thrilling, engaging. Robin in particular is so real, it’s hard not to relate to her.

I love books about dysfunctional families – coming from one myself, I know just how twisted it can get. When Robin and Sarah’s mum has an affair with Callum’s dad, everything disintegrates, and their families merge into one big mess. Robin and Callum stay with her dad and his mum, and Sarah moves out to Atlanta with her mum and Callum’s dad. The distance between the sisters grows, in emotional as well as literal terms. The tangles web of their mingled families gets tighter and tighter, until something has to give.

I loved the way Seddon wrote this, engaging the reader by giving snippets of the past, interspersed with chapters from today. This style of writing, although not unique, is always enticing, and Seddon does it well. Overall, I’d say Don’t Close Your Eyes is another winning thriller.

Many thanks to the author, publisher, & NetGalley for providing me with a free review copy.

Goodreads

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

I review The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick.

Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent.

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The Growing Season is a book that looks at motherhood from every feminist perspective. With the advent of the pouch, a way of growing babies outside of a female body, heterosexual couples can share the load of pregnancy, reaching for true equality. Gay couples and infertile women can also experience pregnancy in a way they never could have before. With your male partner sharing the pregnancy, women are no longer seen as a burden, a risk.

But there’s a darker side to this equality. With the pregnancy occurring outside of the woman’s body, what do they need women for? Eva – and before her, her mother, Avigail – campaigned against the pouch for this very reason. Arguing for choice, for the respect of motherhood not to be taken away from women, Eva and Avigail fight for what they believe to be a woman’s right. They fail to acknowledge, at least for the most part, how the pouch helps those who cannot have children naturally, until later on, when Eva manages to adopt a wider view.

The Growing Season takes multiple viewpoints into account. Women are also encouraged to transfer their unwanted foetuses to the pouch, rather than opt for abortion. This would satisfy the pro-life groups (or anti-woman, as I prefer to call them), but the issue of funding these unwanted children rears its ugly head. Many pro-life groups dedicate so much time to telling women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies, they fail to address just how the children will be looked after throughout their lives – and who will be responsible.

This is a complicated story, not least because of the subject material. We are getting closer to developing a way for a baby to be grown outside of the female body. While this is a positive step for some groups, it might not be seen as such by others. There will always be clashing perspectives when it comes to something like this, and no one of them is more right – more righteous – than the other.

Sedgwick has taken a common, relevant theme, and turned it into an engaging, dystopian fiction. It’s real enough to be relatable, understandable, but still with that reassuring distance, almost like we’re holding the future at arms length. Read it.

Goodreads

An Empire in Runes by Jeffrey L.Kohanek

James McStravick reviews An Empire in Runes by Jeffrey L.Kohanek.

A Long Forgotten Magic That Might Save the World…Or Destroy It

Led by a boy named Brock, a small team of teens urgently assembles a force to confront an army of monsters, one that ravages and destroys anyone or anything in its path.

In a race against time, Brock attempts to train a group of recruits to wield the powerful magic known as Chaos, a magic that he himself is still learning to master. All the while, they must remain vigilant against a secret organization within the Ministry that will do anything to prevent the return of Chaos.

As foretold by an ancient prophecy, the human army must face and defeat their ancient enemy on the Tantarri Plains. For if they fail, all will be lost.

An Empire In Runes

“An Empire in Runes” is the final book in Jeffrey L. Kohanek’s The Runes of Issalia trilogy and what a great trilogy it has been.

When I previously read and reviewed the first and second books in the trilogy, The Buried Symbol (here) and The Emblem Throne (here) I spoke highly of them, this book is no exception to that and possibly the best of the lot.

An Empire in Runes takes place shortly after the climactic finish to The Emblem Throne and we quickly get to see not only how the primary characters but the secondary characters are dealing what has happened up to this current point. For the characters in this trilogy what they have been wanting to accomplish has been a long road and I thoroughly enjoyed reading how each character is dealing with the current situation and the lead up to what has happened.

One aspect I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the most is the planning that occurs in the run up to the final battle and how each character has an important role to play in the run up to it so they can ensure they win it. With this aspect in particular we see numerous groups 2 or more characters being sent off in multiple directions and this allows the book to further build the relationship between them in more detail since they have been travelling as a group for quite a while. Two characters in particular I thoroughly enjoyed reading about were Benny and Ashland, as the role they played in the lead up to the epic conclusion gives you a brief glimpse back into where it all started.

But once all the planning has come to a head and the final battle begins we get a battle of epic portions as we see it divided into different areas of the army that has amassed to fight off what has been tearing the country apart. When I read the battle scenes in the previous books I thoroughly enjoyed them and I thought they were done extremely well but this final battle was something like I had never read before in this trilogy as not only was it so well crafted but it showed the consequences of war and what effects it has on places and people.

I think Jeffrey L. Kohanek definitely wraps this series up very nicely as we get to visit some people and places we haven’t seen since the first book and we see a lot of the story threads being either answered or closed off. So as far as I am concerned there no questions left unanswered when I came to finishing the final book in the trilogy.

With all of the above in mind I really enjoyed reading An Empire in Runes as it caused me to lose quite a lot of time on a number of occasion’s due to how deeply I found myself getting absorbed into the world. If you enjoyed The Buried Symbol and The Emblem Throne then I would highly recommend reading this book because not only is it the best book in the trilogy but it is great conclusion to the trilogy as a whole.

Goodreads | Facebook | @JlKohanek

BLACKWING BY ED MCDONALD (Ravens’ Mark #1)

James McStravick reviews Blackwing by Ed McDonald.

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.

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Firstly, a big thank you to Gollancz for sending me an arc copy of this book for review.

When I read the first page of Blackwing I found myself immediately drawn into the world as Ed McDonald not only manages to grip you very quickly but is also able to give you a quick breakdown of whats happening while setting the tone of the world which I find authors sometimes find struggle to do within that first page.

I usually find myself enjoying one or more aspects of a book more over others but with Blackwing I never once found this as I believe Ed McDonald has managed to accomplish the perfect blend of world building, action, mystery and depth. I find it is very rare to encounter a book like Blackwing as the last time I encountered a book like this was when I first read The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, I also sometimes found myself thinking that the way he crafted certain scenes reminded of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.

One thing I found that made the book a lot easier to read was that Ed McDonald never seemed to over extend the length of a scene as I always found the scenes ended very naturally and because of this the chapters were slightly smaller than a lot of books I have read. This of course then lead to my inner voice saying “oh go on one more chapter won’t hurt”, then next thing you know its 2am or 3am and you have to get up for work in a few hours.

With my reviews I always find myself delving into a breakdown about what I loved and disliked about a book as well discussing the world and characters. Over the past few days or so I have thought over how I wanted to write this review and every time I do I just can’t seem to find the words that would do this book justice and show much I enjoyed it.

Is Blackwing the best fantasy book I have ever read? This is quite possibly true but then again I don’t how I would feel about books I read a number of years ago such as The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. One thing I can tell you though is that Blackwing is the best book I have read so far this year and I feel sorry for the books that have to follow it as they are going to have a tough time against it. Blackwing takes all the elements of a great fantasy book and molds them together to create something that is truly awe inspiring and quite possibly perfect.

Ed McDonald | Goodreads | Facebook | @EdMcDonaldTFK

The Battle For ‘Ms’: Why are we so obsessed with titles?

Titles. For some reason, Brits think they’re incredibly important – especially when it comes to women. But why are we so obsessed with determining whether a woman is married or not?

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The above picture outlines the conversation I had this afternoon with a customer service agent while attempting to renew my car insurance. He was going through my details before generating a quote, and decided that ‘Ms’ is the wrong title for a married woman. He was convinced that ‘Ms’ is only for divorced women, and that’s “just the way of things over here”. I want to challenge this misconception, and ask: what’s so wrong with using ‘Ms’?

“Ms.” began to be used as early as the 17th century, along with “Miss” and “Mrs.”, as a title derived from the then formal “Mistress”, which, like Mister, did not originally indicate marital status.
– Spender, Dale (1981). Man Made Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0-7100-0675-2. From Wikipedia.

Simply, I use ‘Ms’ because I do not want my marital status to be known or inferred by my title. My marital status is irrelevant to most things, and I will disclose whether or not I am married to the appropriate channels, but I will continue to use ‘Ms’ for all correspondence, and everything that requires a title.

I’m not entirely sure what’s so difficult to understand about this. Boys are known as ‘Master’ when they’re boys, but by the time they reach early teens, they become ‘Mr’ until they die. Girls are known as ‘Miss’ until they get married, whereupon it’s expected that they will become ‘Mrs’ (and take their husband’s surname, but that’s a whole nother argument). Why does a man have his title changed when he reaches apparent maturity, but a woman’s title is only changed when she marries (or divorces)?

Let me be clear: Women are more than their relationship to men. As a professional in her mid-twenties, ‘Miss’ seems rather young and immature, whereas ‘Ms’ feels more appropriate. Some people do like to use ‘Mrs’ once they marry, and that’s fine too, but, to me, using ‘Ms’ means I am more than my relationship status. I’m simply an adult woman.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, nor is this a new, modern feminist issue. Many women have shared their own ridiculous stories – one explained that their bank wouldn’t let them use ‘Ms’ until they saw their divorce papers, for fuck sake. A couple of members of my own family abused and disowned me because I complained about being referred to as ‘Mrs Husband’s First Name, Husband’s Surname’. There’s so much wrong with that, it’s unreal.msmissmrs

Last year, I was speaking to our utilities company, and mentioned that they couldn’t schedule a call back on that particular date, as I was getting married. I had been using the title ‘Mx’, which is a newer, gender-neutral term. Once the call was finished and I received some confirmation emails, I realised that the customer service agent had changed my title to ‘Miss’, because I was, at the time, unmarried, and they deemed that title to be the correct one. Are these people fucking insane? In what world is it okay to impose your own ideas and beliefs on others (paying customers, too!), and amend their details without asking them? Hell, I wasn’t even informed that my title was being changed, let alone asked.

This absolutely shouldn’t be an issue. If I’m speaking to a company, or anyone really, and I give my title as ‘Ms’, they should damn well accept it, and say no more on the subject. I certainly don’t expect to be argued with on the subject of my own damn title. My question is this: why do you care so much? Let me choose my own title, and be done with it. Until we afford women the same respect as men – and yes, even in little, seemingly insignificant things like this – we will never achieve equality.

S.N. Lemoing talks about the problem of finding a book cover

As an indie author, I have to do a lot of things by myself, and finding a good cover is one of our worst nightmares – unless you’re skilled at graphic design. For those of us who aren’t, we have some solutions: pre-made covers which can be affordable, or attempting photomontage.

 As I write about strong female characters, I have been dealing with even more hard choices each time I have to create a cover for my novels. First, I was browsing through a lot of pre-made covers in many genres: fantasy, thriller, drama, chick-lit, etc. There are some very beautiful works, some are as worthy as covers created by huge publishing houses.

However, it’s clear they’re all in need of a feminist helping hand.

The women represented on them are all overly feminine, wearing gowns and high heels. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but not all women are like this, and these different women should be represented too.

Moreover, all the models look fragile, strike unnatural poses like holding their bare shoulder while looking away. They all seem to be in waiting, probably for Prince Charming or a bad boy who will harass them.

And this is when they’re not naked, offering themselves to the male gaze – or simply dead bodies.

It’s striking how male characters are not illustrated the same way, just as in the movies, on TV, or in any media that we know. Have you ever seen a cover or a film poster showing a man holding his shoulder with a sad patient look, longing for the girl of his dreams? We’re still waiting.

The thing is, for my first novel, I was looking for female warriors with realistic and practical outfits, but I only found two women, hypersexualized, wearing the same stuff we can see on The Hawkeye Initiative.

Then, I was looking for a determined Mexican woman who’s also a police officer, but could only find two Latina characters (yes, because there is also a lack of ethnic diversity): one who was sexy and passive, lying on a bed, and another one who was crying.

For another novel, I was looking for a confident plus size girl, but as the models on the pictures are all tall and thin, and mainly white, nothing matched. Or the few bigger women that could be found looked passive and/or hypersexualized too, which wasn’t the subject of my story at all.

Representation matters, and we need more diverse pictures and illustrations. We need women who aren’t scared, women with confident stares, women who can actually wear clothes and look powerful thanks to independent and self-assured positions. And also different body types.

We need different male models too, because as you scroll the pages, all you can see are bodybuilders, flexing muscles, and it shouldn’t be a standard either. There should be no standard.

S.N. Lemoing is the author of Powerful – Tome 1: The Realm of Harcilor. She was born in 1987 near Paris, France. S N Lemoing

She graduated in Cinematography and English, studied philosophy, literature and lately, at University, she had the chance to follow classes about the Image of Women in the Media as well as the Female Gaze: Women directors. She then worked as a PA for films and TV, and also wrote, directed and produced episodes for 3 webseries and short films.

You can read more about Lemoing, and her book, here.